Over the past months, Fresh Air for Hout Bay (FAHB) – working with the Hout Bay Residents and Ratepayers Association (HBRRA) – has been working towards finding a solution to the noxious smell from the Oceana fish factory. The issues are complex: while the economic value of the factory cannot be disputed, nor the importance of the jobs provided, we believe it is not right to have to endure a putrid stench that has a negative impact on the socio-economic environment of Hout Bay. As such, FAHB is not promoting that the factory be shut down, but rather that a solution be found to the odour. To do this we have been engaged in a range of activities, the details of which are provided here.
Engagement with the City of Cape Town
Between March and April 2015, a significant number of complaints were logged with the City of Cape Town about the smell from the fish factory, and the City conducted an investigation in response. The details were provided in an official letter which stated that, despite the acknowledgement of the stench, Oceana was operating within all legal parameters and the City would continue to vigilantly monitor the situation, considering any new odour abatement technology if it became available.
In response, HBRRA submitted two documents to the City in April 2015; comments to the Draft Air Quality Management By-Law, and a formal letter of complaint. The letter requested information on how to register the smell as a public nuisance, technicalities around the Atmospheric Emissions Licence, health implications of the smell, and a variety of other issues. The letter was responded to by a report submitted to Sub-Council 16, and was discussed at the meeting held in June 2015.
Over this same period, several important meetings took place. The City met with Oceana’s management in May, and planned to meet again in June. This meeting was subsequently cancelled and is scheduled for August 2015. HBRRA also met with the Mayoral Committee member for Health in June, upon request from Councillor Mamkeli. The meeting had the primary objective of understanding what the City is doing to address the issue and a further list of questions were submitted by HBRRA. The City has requested some tighter controls around the Atmospheric Emissions License, but there is as of yet no concise action that will eliminate the smell.
In the Media
These meetings were covered extensively in the media and you can read articles from the Cape Argus, Die Burger, and The Cape Times. Also check out our FAHB song ‘Lucky Star Ain’t What You Are’: In May 2015 well-known Hout Bay citizens from Hangberg and the valley joint forces in protest and recorded and filmed a song written by SA pop star Ike Moriz. Local musicians included Barry van Zyl (Johnny Clegg’s drummer), Roger Bashew (bass legend), guitar virtuoso Guy Collins (Hot Water), and Hangberg rapper Spike Parker (Peter Parker Michaels). Please visit our website for more links to media articles.
Engagement with Oceana
At the beginning of June 2015, an ‘explosion’ occurred at the factory early one morning – a large blast that woke people up, followed by plumes of smoke, the smell of fish, and a hole in the roof the next morning. After contacting Oceana, they stated it was not an ‘explosion’ but would provide more details on their blog. It has been one month and no further information has been received, with Oceana citing it will be made available once it has been submitted to the relevant authorities.
HBRRA has also been following up the proposed fish factory tour, as agreed to in the August 2014 meeting with Oceana. During this meeting Oceana insisted that none of its activities were ‘mysterious’ and they were willing to work with HBRRA to provide accurate information to the community. We agreed to a ‘fish factory tour’ where community-selected technical experts would be taken through the plant to verify that the odour abatement technology used meets international standards and best practice, as claimed.
We have been liaising with Oceana to arrange this and a number of issues have arisen. Oceana have insisted on conducting a “vetting process” for our selected technical experts (not stipulated in the original agreement), stating they need to verify the abilities of the experts in understanding the processes, despite their insistence of the “relative simplicity of the fishmeal process”. They have also refused to provide the Air Quality Reports and Atmospheric Emissions reports that HBRRA requested, stating this information would only be released to the selected technical experts after the vetting process, and through direct contact.
We believe this raises questions – if Oceana claims to be transparent and collaborative, why would they withhold vital information about their operations and seek to correspond directly with our technical experts? We have indicated this to them, and the need for the process to remain transparent and independent, but the situation remains the same. To demonstrate our own willingness to collaborate, we have agreed to share information about our technical experts at the relevant time, on the condition this does not influence the fish factory tour and that all communication be done through ourselves. We have additionally requested the documents through the Access to Information process directly with the City of Cape Town.
Appointing technical experts to understand the situation
We are currently in consultation with three technical experts experienced in air emissions and odour abatement technology. We anticipate they will participate in the fish factory tour as well as offer us advice about the current status of emissions from Oceana. No further organisation for the tour will take place until HBRRA have received the requested documents from the City of Cape Town and these have been reviewed by the experts.
What does this all mean?
To put it simply, we have no concrete answers at this stage. The City of Cape Town has insisted on tightening controls of the Atmospheric Emissions Licence, but we don’t believe this will have a significant change on the smell. While we continue to unpack legislation and understand the legal framework we need to operate in, we will continue to work with Oceana and the City to find a solution. We hope the meeting in August between Oceana and the City will bring some answers.
In the mean time, we need to increase support from the community and demonstrate the collective nature of our cause.
What can I do to help?
The most effective thing you can do is write a testimonial about how the smell negatively impacts you, your family or your business. To do this:
- Complete an affidavit to register the smell as a public nuisance. Please provide as much detail as possible, while remaining truthful. Have the affidavit certified and send a copy to the organising team. (We know this is a tedious process and appreciate your help with this)
- Sign our petition requesting the City to take stronger action
- Register a complaint with the fish factory when you are impacted by the smell
- Register on the Fresh Air for Hout Bay website
- Support our social media